I knew very little about dogs when my husband and I got one eight years ago, a scruffy, medium-sized shelter dog we named Emmy. But there was one thing I definitely looked forward to: running together. She would be my live-in running partner, an always-ready pal who could give me the appearance of protection on remote trails or dark evenings, who would pace me step for step, paw for foot.
Reality, as always, was a bit different from the daydream. Emmy is built for short sprints; I like to run (relatively) long and slow. I run outside year round; Emmy loves snow but wilts in the summer and avoids water – raindrops, sprinklers, lakes, even puddles – at all costs.
Some days Emmy perks her head when I change clothes, eagerly hoping I’m putting on my running gear; on other days we’re barely to the end of the block before she’s hot or tired, lagging behind like a dawdling toddler as I cling to the leash, my arm outstretched behind my back.
We’ve had some great runs (A+) and a few terrible ones (D), but most I’d rate somewhere in the middle (solid B). Over the years my dog knowledge has grown, largely imparted by people much smarter about this stuff than I am. If you’re thinking about running with your dog, the following tips might help.
Invest in basic obedience training, either on your own or through a dog school. Your runs will be infinitely better once you’ve taught your dog to listen to your voice, to heel, and to walk (and then run) on one side of your body (versus crossing back and forth at will). When we run, Emmy knows she should be on my right side.
Know Your Pup
Is your dog capable of running? Consult your vet first. Generally, it’s best to wait until a young dog’s bone growth plates are closed before they begin vigorous activity, which can take eight months to two years.
Getting in shape takes time, for dogs as well as people. Build endurance gradually. Remember that it also takes time to toughen up a dog’s sensitive paw pads. Even when your dog is physically fit, you may still have to tailor your run for them. Some dogs can run, tirelessly, for hours. For others (like mine), a short run is plenty. Generally, I take Emmy with me for a mile or two before dropping her off at home and continuing on my way.
Think About Supplies
A good 4-6 foot leash (not a retractable leash) and collar may be all you need. You might also prefer a hands-free leash. The number one best piece of equipment I have is a harness that pulls out from Emmy’s chest, which curbs her impulse to pull ahead. (For more dog gear ideas, see outthereoutdoors.com/a-ruff-guide-to-outdoor-dog-gear.)
Also, always (ALWAYS) bring a plastic bag (or more than one!). Take it from me: the day you are sure you don’t need one is the day your dog will do their business in your neighbor’s yard while they watch from the window.
Check in with Your Dog
Your dog is your dependent, and you are responsible for their well-being. Keep your dog safe by checking for things like hot pavement, broken glass, or ice. If your dog limps or licks their paws, stop and examine them right away. Watch out for signs of distress, like foaming at the mouth, glazed eyes, slowing, or heavy panting.
Remember to refuel your dog, not just yourself. On warm days or longer runs, Emmy and I will stop by a park, and I’ll fashion a bowl out of a plastic bag, which I fill with water from a drinking fountain. Remember that some puddle water (tempting to a thirsty dog) can be contaminated. (There are also portable, compact water bowls for dogs.)
Enjoy It for What It Is
There are some dogs and runners who – thanks to a lot of work or just lucky compatibility – run as the perfectly matched pair I once dreamed my dog and I would be. For the rest of us, running with a four-legged pal is as much about compromise as anything else.
But it’s worth it. No matter how good or bad the run is, when we get home, Emmy comes over for a pat. She stands in front of me with her tired, happy face, challenges forgotten, silently thanking me for another adventure together.
Gear Review: Run with Your Dog Hands-Free with the EzyDog Road Runner Leash
I run and walk regularly with my dog Emmy, and I normally use a nondescript leash attached to a harness that pulls out from her chest (which curbs her tendency to pull). When Sandpoint-based company EzyDog offered to send a sample of their hands-free Road Runner Leash, I was eager to try it.
The Road Runner Leash is designed to be worn around the waist (or shoulder or hand) and incorporates “Zero Shock Technology,” designed to make running and walking easier on both the dog and the owner.
Overall, I really liked the leash, which I used for walks and runs (with and without my jogging stroller and kids in tow). It’s easy to attach to the dog’s collar (or, in my case, her harness, which I used in concert with the leash). Snapping the leash around my waist was quick and easy. (One tip: make sure it’s right side up; it will fit regardless, but there’s a clip that bounced and made an annoying clicking sound when upside down).
It was nice to have less to hold onto, and feeling Emmy’s occasional sprints, turns, and stops pull against my waist rather than my more sensitive fingers or wrist was a nice change. I’m sure the shock absorbers also helped reduce the tugging, but I can’t say to what degree.
Other great leash features: it’s reflective, it’s easy to unclip from your waist and attach to a tree or pole if you need to tether your dog (rather than removing the leash entirely and fashioning a slip knot, as I usually do), and there’s a D-ring clip for key rings or other items.
The leash is seven feet, and my one complaint is that it’s a bit long for me (at 5 foot 4 inches with a small build). The only way to decrease length is to increase the amount of leash that loops around your waist, which would have made the fit too loose. (EzyDog makes other leashes of different lengths, just not this particular one).
Gear review originally published in the September 2014 print edition of Out There Monthly.